Ultra breastfeeding

I never fully appreciated the affect of hormones until I got pregnant in 2015.  Holy moly.IMG_20150612_210946272 Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows what I’m talking about. Everything. Everything changes. And it happens pretty quickly as that tiny little poppyseed starts dividing cells.

Fast forward to after you’ve given labor and that watermelon is out of your belly. All normal, right? Nope!  If you choose to breastfeed, you are in for a whole new ride of hormonal bliss.  Yeah, bliss because that oxytocin is the real deal for happiness. There are also a lot of other things involved that can make you not so happy, so don’t start counting your chickens just yet.

About a year ago when I started this blog, I wrote about breastfeeding and running.  My experiences today are a bit different than they were when Cadence was a few months old, so I thought I’d add an update.  I’ve really relied on other mommas and their experiences with running, so I hope my story will help someone else figure out this whole breastfeeding and running journey.  As of today, Cadence is 19 months old, and we’re still breastfeeding. Some people call this extended breastfeeding, but the World Health Organization actually recommends that mothers worldwide breastfeed up to two years and beyond if possible.

First, let me say that breastfeeding is a very individual experience, and everyone’s bodies and babies are different.  Some people choose not to breastfeed or have another challenge that keeps them from breastfeeding.  Whatever I say in this post, mommas, don’t take anything personally.  The great thing about having our own babies is that we get to choose how we want to parent. We’re all in this together!

Frequency of breastfeeding with a toddler

At about 16 months, I stopped pumping at work, and we figured out a way to help Cadence sleep better at night (thank you hot husband).  So now I nurse once in the morning, once after daycare, once before bed, and once in the night (4x). I’m not quite ready to drop the night time feed, even though I know how delicious a complete night of sleep would be.  I really think that one of the reasons I have had such a solid supply is because Cadence has been a terrible sleeper, and I’ve nursed her a lot in the night when she wakes up screaming.  Prolactin hormone levels are highest at night for milk production, and our bodies learn to keep up with the demands.

Training as an extended breastfeeding mom

When I first started breastfeeding, I was absolutely affected by the need to pump or nurse a baby. For one, my boobs were full and uncomfortable, and two, baby’s gotta eat! Now that we are a little further on this journey, my cup size has gone way down (I can wear my old sports bras!), and I don’t nurse Cadence during the day, so training really isn’t affected.  I still take nutrition and hydration into account, but without the day time feedings, I feel much more like  normal person.  My volume of training hasn’t changed much. I still do about 50-70 miles a week with 3 nights of strength training. My running intensity is generally very high, and this has not affected my supply.

Racing as an extended breastfeeding mom

I’ve raced a few marathons (here is Boston and here is my sub 3 hour race in January) and ultra marathons (8 hour here, 100 mile here, and 100k here) since having Cadence.  My most notable breastfeeding performance was pumping throughout my first 100 mile race when Cadence had just turned one year old.  I recommend a hand pump for every (lactating) female athlete. It gives so much freedom to train and compete when you aren’t stuck next to a wall with an electric pump. I exclusively pumped with a handheld pump throughout all of my working and training days, and I have a freezer full of breastmilk to show for it.

If you pump during a race and plan to use the milk, be careful of how much caffeine you consume. Some fueling products include caffeine or other supplements that might not be safe for baby. Be aware that you will need to hydrate and fuel to compensate for the nutrition that is being diverted to feed that baby.  Aren’t our bodies incredible?!

I recently tested my first non-pumping ultra in April at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, and everything went fine.  I nursed Cadence the morning of the race, started at 6 am, and didn’t finish until around 7:30 pm.  All fine without pumping.  That evening, I was able to nurse Cadence without any issue. I have never had any problems with not having enough breastmilk to nurse Cadence after an ultra race, although I might not have had my usual oversupply.  For some of the shorter distances, I have actually noticed a bump in supply at times, and I attribute this to endorphins signaling to produce more milk (just like stress can have the opposite effect).  Everybody’s different here, but thankfully, I’ve never had to choose between racing and breastfeeding.

Hormones as an extended breastfeeding mom

They say that as long as you are still breastfeeding, you are considered postpartum.  19 months is a long trip to be postpartum! I had my hormones checked in December, and everything in the panel was returned in the normal range. I got my period at 16 months, so for the most part, my hormones are regulated. In order to breastfeed, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels are depressed,  while oxytocin and prolactin are increased.  Now that my menstrual cycle has returned, my hormone levels are normal enough to signal the cascade of events for a regular cycle.  I’m not sure how this affects my performance since I still have hormones for breastfeeding as well.  I know that I will benefit from regular levels of testosterone and estrogen once I finally wean.

Future Plans with breastfeeding

I really don’t know how long we’ll keep breastfeeding.  I had no intention of going this long, but it’s worked for us, and I love the connection and nutrition that it provides for Cadence. Our approach to parenting has pretty much been “baby led” everything, and baby led weaning is no exception.  I think one of the biggest factors that has helped with motherhood and breastfeeding is that I have a husband who appreciates what we’ve done with breastfeeding and supports me when I need him.  I do think that I’ll perform better with running if I did not breastfeed because nutrition is such a key factor, and the body stores and uses carbohydrate differently according to hormonal signals.  This window to breastfeed is so short in Cadence’s life, and I’m thankful that we’re still on this ultra breastfeeding journey together.

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Anyone else out there have any stories of running and breastfeeding to share?

Race Report: Warner Robins Aviation Marathon

I started marathon training in November with the idea that I’d run sometime in January and try for a sub-3 hour marathon. My previous PR was a 3:24 from Boston, but my coach planted the seed that a sub-3 hour marathon was possible, and I couldn’t resist.  She created an 8 week plan for me, and I didn’t miss one workout (for better or for worse).

The Week Before

I didn’t actually commit to this race until after New Year’s, which just goes to show how little confidence I had in my body at this point to pull off my goal of a sub-3 hour marathon.  I stayed quiet about race day on Instagram, which if you follow me, you know that I post everything on there.  In November, I was feeling extremely strong, but by the end of December, I was having little (and big) health issues pop up, and I just felt tired. 

Part of my problem in this training cycle is that I was just chronically not getting enough sleep.  Our 15 month old still wakes throughout the night, and with teething and runny noses (both momma and baby), we were have had some rough days and nights.  The week before the race, I finally started going to bed early.  I don’t know why it took me 15 months to finally get my butt into bed early, but it was glorious.  And in a few days, some of my health concerns started to abate and I was feeling human again.  It’s just so hard as a working mom to see above the weeds sometimes. 

I always choose a verse for my goal races, and for this one I wanted something to remind me that God’s love is sufficient, regardless of how I perform.  So, my verse was Phil 4:18a,19 “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied […] And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” I’m thankful that the race went well, but even if it hadn’t, I know that my “medal” isn’t of this earth. It makes it a lot easier to run your heart out when you know that you’ve already won.

The Night and Morning Before

My grandmother lives 30 minutes from Warner Robins, Georgia, so my husband, baby and I stayed with her for the night.  My grandmother’s house wp-1484618173235.jpgis one of my very favorite places to visit to relax, but we had a few unexpected things happen to make the night exciting.  In one sentence: a criminal stole a truck and wrecked it across the street from my grandmother’s house so the five dogs that she is dog sitting barked at the eight cop cars and fire truck that showed up, and the wrecker that was called to tow the stolen truck ran over our water valve, so the water was shut off, and that doesn’t even include the baby who still doesn’t sleep through the night and my aunt who called at midnight to check on us!  🙂

I like to say this for the benefit of the new moms. I am still breastfeeding Cadence at 15 months postpartum, and I have not had any problems with breastfeeding while training and racing.  Everyone is different, but don’t let breastfeeding intimidate you out of competing.  You know your body better than anyone after going through pregnancy, especially if you are a runner.  So I breastfed Cadence the night before and the morning of the race, and then I pumped a couple of ounces in the car on our way to Warner Robins.

Everything went smoothly once we arrived at the race and I checked in.  The forecast changed to be a few degrees warmer than expected with full sun instead of clouds.  Also, the race started 20 minutes later than scheduled, but this wasn’t announced until we were all lined up at the start.  I wasn’t thrilled about the schedule change, but once I set my expectations, everything was fine.

The Start

My prayer was that the paces would come easy.  It’s the best feeling in the world to feel your legs floating during a race.  Thankfully, when the gun went off, everything clicked.  I was running in the low 6:40s , and it felt easy.  I ran with a small group of guys for a few miles, then many of them dropped off.  There were no females in sight.  It wasn’t long before I was running by myself on the course as we spread out.

My goal pace to go sub 3 hours was a 6:52.  Even though I was running faster than I had planned, my new rule is to run by feel.  If 6:40s feels like I’m running at top efficiency, then that is what I am going to do.  I knew that it would only get hotter as the morning grew later, and I wanted to take advantage of feeling good.

The course was not at all beautiful, but it was interesting to see different buildings on the base and see planes peaking out of hangars around the base. The course had minimal elevation change, but it was enough to have to work a little on the hills.  The hardest part was around mile 11.5 (and 24.5) where there was about a mile and a half of gradual incline. The aid stations were about every two miles, but I never felt like I could quite get enough water despite this frequency.

Halfway There

There were very very few spectators since it was a military base, and there were not many volunteers on the course.  I have never known whether I needed the spectators for energy, but I definitely noticed that whenever I passed anyone at all, I got a little bump in my speed.  The sun was out full force by the halfway mark, and I wished that I had worn my hat.  It was in the mid-70s by the time that I finished the run.  Otherwise, I felt pretty good in my zone and I was thoroughly enjoying this run.  This is what we train for and it passes so quickly!  You have to enjoy every mile because there are only 26(.2) of them.

By mile 13, my legs were feeling like they were running in the 6:40s, but I was pretty confident that I could at least keep pace to hit my sub 3 goal. When I passed the mile 13 aid station, I saw my husband and baby, and it was the highlight of my race (other than the finish, haha!).  Mile 13 was the only place where spectators could gather, and since I was completing two loops, I knew that the next time that I would see them was the finish. (Jon gets husband and daddy award of the year for keeping our one year old occupied at the museum while I was out playing. Below: it looks like they had a pretty good time!)

The Finish

So out I went for the second loop.  I knew that I could hit my goal, but I’d have to work for it.  For fuel, I was eating Honey Stinger chews, and I had packed one Honey Stinger gel.  I assumed that the race would have some type of gel at the aid stations, but I was wrong and only saw half bananas at one aid station.  I carried enough food, but would have appreciated a little extra should it have been available.

I was really happy with the Honey Stinger chews, as I was able to eat two or three at a time over the course of the run.  I mixed the caffeine chews with the regular ones in a ziploc bag.  I also ate one Honey Stinger gel before the race and one during the race.  The HS gels taste so good!  I’ve never cared for gels, but these actually taste like honey, and the consistency is more natural.

My left hamstring and both calves were feeling tight, but it was manageable and I was able to sustain a decent pace.  I started to slow to about a 7 minute pace in the last 3 miles, especially for the inclines.  At this point, I was passing a lot of walking half marathoners.  I was just focused on not letting my pace slip so that I could finish the race with a sub 3 hour time.  I kept comparing the last 6 miles of this race to the last 16 miles of the Yeti 100 where my husband helped me shuffle in to the finish. I’m still not sure which one hurt more, but both were uncomfortable and made the finish all the more sweet!

I finally got to the finish… and ran the wrong way!  I passed the turn to the finish, but since there were so many half marathoners around, it took me a minute to understand that the volunteers were telling me to make a turn.  So I took a left turn and finally saw the finish line!  Glory glory!  I saw my handsome husband and cute little baby, and crossed that finish line as first female in 2:58:22!

The awards ceremony was held about an hour after I finished, so Cadence and I ate bagels (and one of us napped) while Jon drove to a Subway to buy us lunch.  We got our award, and then we were off to my grandmother’s house to celebrate and shower.

Thank you to my amazing coach, Michele Yates of Rugged Running, for believing in me and creating a training plan that helped me reach my goals!  Also, thanks to the Warner Robins Aviation Marathon for hosting all of us for a great day of running!

Also, I’ve been training with the Milestone Pod, and here is the data it collected about the running mechanics of my run:

Did anyone else have a big race this weekend?

Spousal Support: how to love your runner

I left Saturday morning for my training run, and the whole time, I couldn’t stop thinking img_20161105_150210about all of the ways that my husband, Jon, loves me through his support of my running. (#2 below is what started this string of thought that lasted me through most of my run.) I know this sounds sappy, and don’t get me wrong, just like every marriage, there are plenty of opportunities for both of us to work on, but when it comes to supporting my passions, Jon has it nailed. And honestly, if you asked whether I would prefer a husband who cooked and cleaned, or a husband who supports my running, I’m going to go with running every day of the week.  (And Jon will argue that he does cook and clean, but I will say that our versions of those responsibilities are a little different. :))

So here is a list of some of the ways that Jon loves me through running.  If you are a spouse to a runner, you may want to take notes.  If you wish that your husband supported you a little more, maybe slip this link into an email (but be prepared to receive a list in return! ;)).

  1. All of my nicest and best running gear is from Jon.  I hate to shop, and Jon and I are both really conservative spenders.  But Jon bought me my first Garmin when I started to show an interest in running in 2013, he researched hydration packs and bought me the best one as a surprise for my first trail ultramarathon in 2014, and all of my nicest brand name running outfits came from him as gifts.
  2. Jon has never expected me to get up early on the weekends to get in my runs so that I can free up our time together.  Now that we have a baby, Jon is especially conscious that I don’t get much sleep during the week, and he watches Cadence on Saturday mornings whenever I finally make it out the door, no complaints. (He wanted to do a spin class this past Saturday morning, but shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why don’t you just get in your run instead.”)
  3. He helps me maximize my time with the baby, despite that fact that I am training all of the time. This is seriously one of biggest gifts that Jon could give me.  He brings Cadence down to our basement gym to say hi when I’m running before work, and he often plays with her during my strength training after work so that we can all hang out together.  I get to take her in the stroller for hours at a time, even though that means that he doesn’t get to hang out with her at home.
  4. He reminds me of my goals and helps me reach them, even if it means more sacrifices for him.  There are so many times that I get discouraged or burned out, and Jon is always there to encourage me to keep training hard, even though that means more time away from him.  I don’t know why this still surprises me, but he truly has my best interest at heart when he gives me advice.
  5. We budget for the expenses of running and racing, and Jon doesn’t complain.  I don’t even want to know how much we spent to allow me to run the Yeti 100 mile race, but I know that the AirbNb alone was over $600.  I have a coach, I get massages when I feel like an injury might be coming on, I replace shoes as soon as I think they are getting weak, I sign up for distant races, we have a fully outfitted home gym, etc.  Always in the budget.
  6. Jon is at the finish line (with a baby) when I need him.  He doesn’t go to the races that I tell him are just for training, but he has spectated in the pouring rain and freezing cold to watch me cross the finish line for goal races. (While getting his MBA, he did a group project from the car while I ran a marathon in Nashville so that he could be there to support me.)  He was critical on my crew for the Yeti 100, even running the last 16 miles with me.
  7. He joins me in my training efforts even when it’s not what he had on his agenda.  The other night we were running through the park with headlamps on so that I could get in my second run for the day, and I was thinking of how thankful I was to have Jon by my side because I would feel uncomfortable running those trails by myself in the dark, and I certainly wouldn’t have brought Cadence along for the run if Jon had not been with me.  His presence is always a great motivator to get out the door, even if I don’t feel like it.  There was one day when I was training for my 100 mile race where I called him from the park and asked for him to bring me a gel and told him that I was really flagging.  Not only did he show up with the gel, but he also came dressed to run so that he could help me finish the workout.
  8. Jon knows the details of my training, splits, goals, and schedule, and he can carry on a really convincing conversation about all things running, even though he doesn’t share the same passion. He helped me map out my race plan for the Yeti 100 with paces, crew stops, and nutrition, and we ended up being spot on with the planning.  He knows me so well!
  9. I gave up wine and I go to bed earlier than he does every night, and he still wants to be married to me.  Ok, so just kidding here, but really, I’m not as much fun anymore now that I am training so hard, breastfeeding, and not sleeping.  With so many demands on my body, I never like staying out late, and I am really careful with what I put into my body (unless it is chocolate, of which Jon buys me Costco quantities).
  10. Jon knows that vacations for me are not vacations without running and working out.  We’ve picked hotels based on the hotel gym, and Jon has run up and down the streets of foreign cities so that I could get in a run.  One of my favorite memories is running all over Berlin with him.  What better way to see a city?!

There are times, like in any marriage, when I get frustrated because my expectations are not being met.  But the items on this list always bring me back around to nothing but gratefulness and a full heart.  And it’s also a good reminder to me that I need to support Jon and show him love in the way that it matters to him.  We might have a dirty house and a baby with only one shoe on her foot when we run out the door, but we have learned in the last six+ years of marriage how to love each other.  And I’m so thankful that Cadence will see her father’s love as an example when she starts to understand all of the ways that she is loved.

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Anyone else want to brag on their partner?

Race Report: Atlanta Thanksgiving Half Marathon

This is the second year in a row that my husband and I have run the Atlanta Track Club Thanksgiving Half Marathon.  Last year, my husband ran it with me because I had asked him while I was still pregnant if he would sign up with me.  (How can a husband look at his very pregnant wife and say no?!) This year Jon is the one who asked me to run because he wanted to complete the Atlanta Track Club Triple Peach series, and this was the final race in the series. I’m never one to turn down a race! (Or a running husband!)

Jon’s family had come into town from Arkansas, and his dad signed up to run the 5k while we ran the half marathon.  (Jon’s family is amazing, and we always look forward to visits with them.  His aunts and uncles are all hardcore athletes.  It’s pretty cool.)  The three of us drove down to the start area while Jon’s siblings stayed behind to watch Cadence at our house.  We gave ourselves plenty of time for parking, and I pumped in the car in the parking lot once we got settled.  The temperatures had been projected to be in the 30s-40s, but as the sun started to come up, we realized that it would be a warmer day than forecast.  I changed into shorts in the car, and I’m so thankful that I did! (Below, don’t I have a hot husband?!)

When it came close to the race start time, Jon and I went to the portapotties for one last try, and then we ran to the corrals.  We probably cut it a little closer than we should have (especially after just sitting in the car waiting), but we made it to the middle of corral A before the gun went off.  There was a lot of weaving in the beginning, and I have to admit that I get pretty annoyed when very slow runners decide to start at the front of a competitive race.  I am very supportive of anyone who wants to run, but I think we would all have a better time if we started in the appropriate wave. (Right?)

I was hoping to use this race as a gauge of my current marathon training cycle, so I wanted to target at least ~6:50 pace.  Lately I have had some ankle pain, and I was afraid that this might limit me.  Once the race started, I felt light and free, and I was able to easily knock out paces in the mid- 6s.  The course was very hilly, but that did not seem to affect me until about halfway through the race.  I did have to slow down on the hills by around mile 8, but I never felt like I was racing with all of my effort.thanksgivingsplits

I finished with an average pace of 6:41 (gun pace of 6:48), and it definitely wasn’t easy at the end, but I always felt like there was something left in the tank to push harder.  The hills in that race (and every Atlanta race) are no joke, so I’m hoping that a flatter marathon course will be all the easier for me to knock out my paces.  I know that there is a huge difference between the half marathon and the full marathon, but I still feel encouraged by my results.

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Overall, I finished 8th female out of 3,582 female runners, and 3rd in my age group.  The Atlanta Track Club hosts some competitive races, so I am always humbled to try to keep up with the big dogs! 🙂

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On another note, I’ve been having fun with a new running toy, the Milestone Pod, to help me stay aware of my gait mechanics. Below are some of the data points that the little pod offers.  My stride length is normally in the mid forties on training runs, so it is interesting that it is longer in a racing environment.  I’m hoping to improve my ground contact time, but so far, I haven’t managed to lower it.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  Now on to Christmas!!

Race Day with a Baby

I’ve heard from a lot of pregnant or new moms (mostly over Instagram) who say that they are relieved to see that my training days didn’t end when we had Cadence.  She’s been a great little buddy in the stroller or pack and play while I run.  And she likes to play in our basement while I do weights.

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That’s all great for training, but what do you do about race day?!  I have two races coming up in the next week (Saturday 8.9 mile trail run and Thursday Thanksgiving Half Marathon), so I thought it might be a good time to mention our experiences with race day and childcare.

  • Husband: If my husband isn’t racing, that’s a no brainer, and he watches the little dumpling. We brought Cadence to Boston with us when I was 6 months postpartum,
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    Boston Marathon Finish 2016, 6 months pp

    and Jon hung out with Cadence the whole day from the time that I loaded the buses until I finished my run.  They are the best spectators, my reward!

  • Crew: For the Yeti 100, my parents and husband watched Cadence and brought her to the aid station stops for me to soak up her goodness and get a little motivation.  I pumped at three of my crew stops, and it helped to see the baby and get a little baby love.
  • Daycare/babysitter:  For local races where Jon and I are both running, we use our daycare person to babysit.  Our daycare is an in-home facility down the street from our house, so this is very convenient.  It’s also a lot easier to ask a grown adult to babysit at 6:30 am instead of a teenager. 🙂  We just drop Cadence off on our way to the race, and she’s happy because it is familiar.

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    Yeti 100, mile 53, 1 yr pp

  • Grandparents: My first race postpartum was the Thanksgiving half marathon last year (I’m getting ready to run it again next week).  We had a house full of company, and everyone was getting up and running the race the next day.  Everyone except our 8 week old… So I spent the night with my parents 35 minutes away and got up race morning super early to drive back to my house and meet up with everyone else running the race.  I did not get much sleep at all that night, but that seems to be the trend for all of my races since Cadence was born.  Haha.  It was nice to see my parents briefly for Thanksgiving, and I always love to have my parents watching our baby. My mother in law hasn’t watched Cadence for races yet, but she has been super to come over on Sunday mornings to let Jon and me get in some of our runs together.  A little date on the run!

Those are our examples of our experiences with childcare and races, and here are a few other tips on racing with a baby:

About breastfeeding/pumping: I have run every distance from 5k to 100 miler while breastfeeding.  It goes without saying, pump before the race.  If we are driving to the start, I pump in the car.  For the Boston Marathon, I had to load the buses at 7 am, but my wave didn’t run for several more hours.  In that case, I packed a manual pump and visited the first aid tent to pump before the race.  For my ultra races like the Hot to Trot 8 hour race, I brought my manual pump and stopped to pump along the way.  Typically, I can go about 5 hours without pumping.  Lecithin is a great supplement to help you prevent getting clogged ducts. (I’m now at >1 year of breastfeeding, so I am not worried about supply and will start weaning sometime in the coming months.)

Running on no sleep: Oh my goodness!  I don’t even remember what a good night of sleep feels like!  I’ve really not ever gotten much sleep before a race, still waking up with Cadence several times in the night, plus waking up early to take care of her before packing up and heading out for a race.  But it’s always been ok.  I’m not advocating that sleep isn’t important, but if you find yourself sleepless the night before a race, don’t panic.  Just drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the run.  🙂

The reward: For all of the new challenges of figuring out logistics with a baby on race morning, it is absolutely worth  every little inconvenience!  You just figure out what works for you.  If you have a good support system, that makes it all the better.  There might be a season of local races, but those can be just as fun for a season.

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Has anyone traveled to a destination and hired a babysitter while at the site?  I have heard that some races and hotels offer referrals for race day childcare if both parents are running.

Race Report: Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run

I hardly even know where to begin with a race report for the Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run, as the race started for me way before Friday September 30th.  One thing that I have learned in running 100 miles is that you get to know your strengths and weaknesses pretty intimately through the journey.  You also get to know the people around you pretty closely, and I think that has been the most rewarding of all.  I have been surrounded by so much love and support on this journey, and I am so thankful to the people who helped make this such a rewarding and fun experience.Yeti map.PNGFirst of all, my husband supported my training program 100% from day 1, even with a newborn and a lot of other life demands.  My neighbors cheered me on as I ran up and down our streets with a hydration pack and a headlamp.  My co-workers listened to me talk about this race every day for months, and then they sat by their computers on race day to see the updates. I have so many running friends, both virtual and in my day-to-day life who helped encourage me.  My family was unwavering to keep my spirits high through training and race day.  And last but not least, the Yetis made this race absolutely spectacular.  I have never been surrounded by a group of people so generous with their time and resources, and it has been such a gift to have made so many new trail friends through this race.  Thank you Jason Green, for sharing your beautiful little town with us and helping us reach our goals!

THE DAY BEFORE: My husband, Jon, and I arrived in Abingdon, VA with my parents and Cadence (our ONE year old) on Thursday evening in time to check into our Airbnb and go to the packet pick-up. (Pictured below is our cute little Airbnb house and my mom sitting with Cadence on her one year birthday.)

Packet pick-up was at the Wolf Hills Brewery, which should give you a pretty good idea that the Yetis like to have fun. 🙂

I didn’t sleep great the night before the race, but that has been the story of my life for the last year since Cadence was born.  She didn’t go down until after 10 pm, and she woke up at 2:30 am to nurse.  My alarm went off at 5 am, and Jon and I started getting ready to head to the race.  It was so surreal to be loading up the car for race day!  Jon was going to drop me off at White Top Station for the 7 am start, and then he’d go back to the house to get everything and everyone ready to support me for the rest of the day (my hero!).

WHITE TOP TO ABINGDON, MILES 0-33.4: The race started just as it was getting light outside.  We all slowly started running downhill from White Top Station, and eventually everyone got into their respective pace groups.  I love the beginning of a trail run because generally you run with a pack of friends (old or new) and chat the whole time.  This was no exception as I ran beside friends from the start. Pictured below are my good trail buddies, Sam Terry and Jenny Nichols, who I met at the training run in June.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay with any one group for very long, as my stomach started giving me issues from the start (even before the race started), and I had to dip into the woods to take care of business.  Ultras are notorious for GI issues, but I do not know why I started having problems from the very first miles.  Either way, it was not a fun way to start the race, and I was starting to feel the effects of not having enough nutrition for a strong run.  My legs felt heavy and hard to keep my projected goal pace of 10:30 min/mile with all of my bathroom stops.  I kept thinking, “Really!?  This is not how I wanted my race to end.”  So much disappointment after all of my hard work in training. And so humbling!  But the trail community is great, and everyone commiserated with my sh*tty situation.  Haha. (Pictured below is the Damascus aid station.  We passed this aid station 3x, and it was glorious with two tables full of food and fire pits waiting to lure runners to comfort.)

When I passed through the Damascus aid station (mile 18), one of the kindest volunteers gave me some Immodium, and I quickly adopted a fueling strategy largely around a combination of Immodium and Pepto Bismal.  Luckily, I don’t think that my stomach issues were causing me to lose too many nutrients, and I soon was able to eat and drink more.  I continued to run down the trail with mile 33 as my goal, where I would see my crew for the first time. I knew that if I could get to them, they would at least share the burden of knowing that I was struggling so much. (Pictured below is my greeting committee at the Abingdon aid station.)

I made it to Abingdon (mile 33) to see my crew about 15 minutes later than my projected pace.  What joy to see my family!  My parents came to help crew so that they could watch Cadence while Jon took care of me.  I got to the aid station, changed socks, pumped, hugged the baby, popped a few pepto bismal pills, and felt like a new woman. They say that you shouldn’t have your parents crew for ultras because it is so hard for them to see you suffer.  I’ve got to say, my mom gave me a pep talk that turned my race around. Katie (my pacer for later in the race) and her family also arrived just in time to see me off to the next leg of the race.

ABINGDON TO WHITE TOP, MILES 33.4 TO 66.8: After I left the aid station at Abingdon, it was like a whole new race.  I was still working through stomach issues, but things were getting better, and I had a renewed energy and speed.  THIS is what I was waiting for.  I started clipping away at an 8-9 min/mile pace, which felt terrific.  For once, my legs felt like they didn’t have to put forth much effort, and I was watching the miles click away. Running fast in an ultra is typically a poor race plan because you can burn yourself out way too soon, but I felt like I was moving more economically at a faster pace, and economy saves energy.  I was able to enjoy the beautiful trails around me, and I felt happy and strong.  I always want to enjoy my races, and that is part of my motivation in training.  I was having a blast, and I felt like myself again.  Fellow runners who had seen me struggling during the first 33 miles were so encouraging as I ran along the course. (Pictured below is the trail and the famous Watauga Trestle bridge.  My new friend, Allen, is in front of me.  Allen ran a lot of ultras in the 80s, then took a break and returned to racing only recently.)

I ran through the Alvarado aid station (mile 42)  (thank you John Davenport for your ceaseless support!), and picked up new supplies at the Damascus aid station where we had our drop bags (mile 48).  As I was running away from Damascus, Sean Blanton (aka Run Bum, RD of my first ultra race) drove by and honked and yelled my name.  Something about having people know you and genuinely care about your success is so powerful.  I love the trail running community!  I was having a blast! (In the video below, I am running with my new friend, Tom.  Tom’s longest race before this was a 10k.  He ended up finishing 9th overall, which is incredible.)

My next stop was Straight Branch at mile 53, where I had planned to meet my crew again.  I had to pump through the race, so my designated meeting times were largely around pumping times.  I resupplied, pumped, and got to soak up love from my family and baby at these stops, and they were the treasures that kept me motivated and moving on.  I think that being a mom helps put everything into a new perspective, and it also makes you appreciate luxuries like running on the trails all day so much more.  I could not have experienced the fullness of it all without the support of my crew!

The next time that I would see my crew would be the top of White Top Station at mile 66, where I would pick up my new friend and pacer, Katie.  I had been looking forward to running with Katie since she signed on to pace me in August, and it made the miles between 53 and 66 seem to breeze by.  I ran through Taylor’s Valley, which is absolutely beautiful (as is every other part of this course), and up the steeper incline of Green Cove.  It started getting darker and cooler as I ascended to White Top.  I was slowing down in pace, but I was still feeling really strong and my nutrition was solid. (Pictured below are some of the scenes near Taylor Valley, including the red caboose aid station in the bottom left corner.)

I reached White Top Station just as it was getting dark.  My crew (Dad, Jon, and Katie) met me and went through the routine of resupplying my food and asking me the pertinent questions about my well-being.  I was really encouraged that my nutrition seemed to be spot on, even with breastfeeding, and my stomach issues seemed to finally be resolved after mile 66. I pumped for the last time and changed into warmer clothes.  Then Katie and I strapped on our headlamps and headed out for our run.  They had all seen a bear on the drive up to our stop, so we were sent off with lots of prayers and just a little bit more worry from my dad.

WHITE TOP TO ABINGDON, MILES 66.8 – 100.2: Running with Katie was so much fun, even at the 66+ mile mark when my legs were starting to feel tired.  She made the comment that she doesn’t get long uninterrupted blocks of time to just run anymore, as she is also a new mom.  Just like me, she squeezes in her training runs in the wee hours of the morning, or later at night. We both have super supportive husbands who help us pursue our hobbies, but there is something liberating about two girlfriends strapping on headlamps and running for hours through the dark on the trails.  We turned off our headlamps to look at the stars dancing in the dark sky, and I saw two shooting stars. Running with Katie helped break up the race monotony and gave me something to look forward to all day.  We ran from White Top to Damascus together, where we met up with Jon.  The miles didn’t fly by, but we exceeded our projected pace, taking walk breaks as my legs demanded.

We made it to Damascus around 11:45 pm to meet Jon and my dad.  Jon was ready to bring me on home!  It was beyond fulfilling to share the last 16 miles of this race with Jon.  He helped me get to this point for months of training and a full day of crewing, and now my husband, my champion, was there to help my tired legs push to the end. By this time, the fog had settled and visibility with the headlamp was only a few feet.

We stopped briefly at the Damascus aid station because it had at least three fires and tons of pie and other goodies.  Ultra aid stations and the volunteers are fantastic!  Then we were on our way!  I was on a run-walk pattern for the rest of the race with Jon.  I had projected a 14 minute pace for the last leg of the race, and we were able to exceed it throughout the run.  We passed a girl around the Alvarado aid station, and I later learned that she had been in 2nd place.  We also passed a few guys in the last 10 miles of the race.  Jon steadily led me to the finish, running about a foot in front of me and to the side so that it felt like he was pulling me along.  My foot started to hurt around mile 90, and my run was reduced to a shuffle, but my legs still felt like they had some power in them.  We ran a few 10 minute mile paces to put some distance between us and the runners we had passed, but the last two miles of the race were mostly comprised of hiking.

What bliss to finish!  Jon and I ran across the finish together at 3:44 am, with a finishing time of 20:44, and 2nd female, 7th overall runner. My dad was there to celebrate the moment with me, and my mom was a phone call away waiting with the baby.

I learned so much in running this race, and I had such a good time along the way.  As with any goal, the more you work toward it and the more people you have surrounding you, the more fun and rewarding it will be.  Thank you again to all of the fabulous and loving volunteers who made this race possible. Also thank you to all of my fellow runners who encouraged me along the trails. I am truly blessed, and I praise our Creator for giving me the ability to enjoy His creation.

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Does this make you want to sign up for a 100 mile race?  😉

The Sweetest Kind of Exhaustion

My relationship with sleep has changed a lot in the last year since Cadence was born.  You see, my baby doesn’t really sleep a whole lot, at least not in long stretches at a time.  I’m getting ready to run my first 100 mile race, and one mantra that I remind myself when I start to freak out about that distance is You can do hard things.  Out of all of my experiences in life, the two hardest things that come to my mind with that mantra are 1. natural childbirth (which really wasn’t that hard; more mental than anything) and 2. functioning for a whole year on very little sleep while training for races ranging from the Boston marathon at 6 months postpartum, to my upcoming 100 mile race at 1 year postpartum. img_20160120_1925463

I can do hard things because I can wake up with a baby all night long, still wake up for my training run in the morning, and then go to work all day only to return back home to the responsibilities of wife and mom.  I can do hard things.

My husband and I met with our pediatrician before Cadence was born, and he told us that babies can sense when their parents are stressed and it can affect the baby.  I tend to be an A type, need-a-plan kind of girl, so being stress-free does not exactly come naturally to me.  This piece of advice really made an impression on me though, and I decided early on that if we had a bad night with little sleep, that was OK.  And it has been. For a whole year.

img_20160814_081402From the beginning, we had the normal newborn, every two hour feedings, plus a few other wake up times for good measure.  Cadence started to get more on a three hour routine around three months old, and then I started back to work and she caught every single bug at daycare.  My lowest point (I can do hard things) was around March (6 months old) when Cadence was waking up more than 10 times a night (my rule is to stop counting at double digits).  I was nearing the end of my training for Boston, and my body was hurting in every way. Miraculously, just in time for Boston, Cadence improved to about 2-3 wakings a night, and we’ve pretty much been in that state since then.  Some nights are better and some nights are worse.

I’m not complaining.  Not one bit.  It has been hard, but I can do hard things.  It has also been one of the sweetest, most rewarding things in my life. I get to hold my tiny (growing) baby in the night when snuggles are the very sleepiest.  I’m still breastfeeding, and I know that even if she is distracted to eat very much during the day, she’ll make up for nutrition with breast milk at night.  I’m at work during the day, and my training takes up my early mornings and some evenings after work.  Night time is our time.

img_20151104_074223014Cadence won’t always need me in the night, so I am soaking up all of the baby snuggles while I can. I’m sure that the lack of sleep has limited my recovery after hard workouts, and I know that it has made my brain fuzzy many days at work, but I’m a mom first, and right now, my sweet little baby needs me. As I approach my race where I’ll be running (and pumping) through the night, thinking of Cadence will be my motivation to finish strong and fast so that I can get back to that little sleeping angel.

img_20160908_224336Any other moms still waking up with their babies at night and while trying to maintain a training schedule?